An otherwise routine Capitol press conference turned contentious Friday when two representatives from a nurses union began lobbing questions at Sen. Richard Pan, who was presenting a bill to penalize hospitals that call 911 instead of treating drunk patients.
The bill quickly became a symbol of a larger fight going on between two health care unions: SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, which brought the bill to Pan, and the California Nurses Association, which had two members sitting in the audience ridiculing the bill until they were silenced.
The two unions are at odds over a hospital merger deal, in which the for-profit chain Prime Healthcare Services wants to buy the nonprofit Daughters of Charity Health System. SEIU, along with the AFSCME labor union, represents workers at the Daughters of Charity hospitals in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and is trying to stop the purchase. The nurses association supports the sale.
The two unions were also at odds during the hotly-contested Democrat-on-Democrat race in November that landed Pan in the state Senate. SEIU’s health care worker union largely underwrote three campaign committees that spent $1.3 million to help him get elected. The California Nurses Association gave $130,000 to a committee that opposed Pan in his race against then-Assemblyman Roger Dickinson. Pan said the independent expenditures by SEIU had nothing to do with his decision to carry the union’s bill.
“I don’t think that that’s relevant to this particular bill. I think the merits of the bill stand on its own,” said Pan, D-Sacramento.
Senate Bill 145 calls for financial penalties for hospitals that deal with intoxicated patients by calling 911 and having them arrested, instead of giving them medical care. It’s a problem Pan and the SEIU say is disproportionately taking place at hospitals in the Prime network, the point they made at Friday’s press conference.
After Pan opened the floor to questions from the media, Brendan White of the California Nurses Association began to challenge the validity of Pan’s statistics. Pan’s press secretary told him that the question-and-answer session was only for the press.
Then DeAnn McEwen of the nurses association stood up and challenged Pan about the bill.
“This seems politically motivated to me,” she said.
SEIU’s Steve Trossman interrupted, saying: “You guys need to sit down. This is not the purpose of this meeting... This is a press conference.”
Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall.